D. Heimpel

Daniel Heimpel's life as a journalist

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2010 in review

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The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads This blog is doing awesome!.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,800 times in 2010. That’s about 4 full 747s.

 

In 2010, there were 6 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 32 posts. There were 2 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 117kb.

The busiest day of the year was February 22nd with 85 views. The most popular post that day was GMA Call to Action on Behalf of 1,400 Former Foster Kids .

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were dheimpel.com, facebook.com, twitter.com, twitlonger.com, and mail.live.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for foster care, fostering media connections, daniel heimpel, i will be 18 foster care prostiution, and thp plus 1,400.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

GMA Call to Action on Behalf of 1,400 Former Foster Kids February 2010
4 comments

2

You Have to Like to Fight March 2010
1 comment

3

Fostering Media Connections in California’s most and least populous Counties October 2009

4

THP-Plus among other things on the Radio February 2010

5

The LA Times Follows on Kin-GAP Coverage December 2009
1 comment

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Written by dheimpel

January 3, 2011 at 1:28 am

Posted in Uncategorized

You Have to Like to Fight

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For 1,400 former foster youth it is either that or homelessness.

“This is a fight,” says California Assembly member Jim Beall in his Sacramento office. Two former foster youth and four transitional housing workers sit on long couches pushed against the wall. Today, they are in the Capitol Building, pleading for a program that gives thousands of California former foster youth the stable start to adulthood that many of their parented-peers blithely expect.

Beall, a bear of man, levels his eye on a 19-year-old named Daniel, who lives in one of California’s state-funded Transitional Housing Programs (THP-Plus) in Fresno.

“You have got to be a fighter, and you have to like to fight,” Beall says, driving home the sentiment that has been brewing in former foster youth, service providers and advocates up and down the state ever since Governor Schwarzenegger put the entire $35.7 million THP-Plus budget on the chopping block back in January.

Since the mere utterance that the Governor would dare consider cutting the program, which would force 1,400 youth onto the street,  a steady hum of media and activist activity has grown and was vented at the state capital Tuesday March 2nd.

THP-Plus, which provides transitional housing for a fraction of the 4,000-5,000 California foster youth who “age out” of the system every year, interested me because it ties into the national movement within Child Welfare calling for the extension of care to 21. This shift in foster care policy is embodied in federal law as a key provision of the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008. In the context of Fostering Media Connections, the row over THP-Plus provided an opportunity to test my concept of driving public will through media coverage.

Beyond this conceptual challenge, I know the program well. It provides 24 months of subsidized housing for former foster youth between the ages of 18-24. Participants pay an increasing “rent” which is saved for them upon completion of the program. Establish in 2001, THP-Plus was part of a vanguard of programs around the country that were based on ample research pointing to the fiscal and moral responsibility that we as a society have in ensuring that youth transition from foster care to adulthood successfully.  That Schwarzenegger would hint at eliminating the program, after child welfare in California had already been purged of $80 million in the current budget, was beyond cynical; it was absurd. Shutting the program down and spilling 1,400 youth onto the streets makes no fiscal sense. THP-Plus costs roughly $25,000 a year per participant. Jail costs upwards of $55,000. Emergency rooms, homeless shelters and a cohort of youth that grow into adults who spend their lives on public assistance as opposed to 24 months aren’t free either.

So, I joined Amy Lemley of the John Burton Foundation in running fort-nightly press team meetings.  A dozen or more THP-Plus service providers would dial in to conference calls where we would discuss media strategy. We developed materials for Op-Eds and short news pitches aimed at local media. But the real catalyst for momentum came, as it always does, from the youths themselves.

Suahmirs Rivera, a 19-year-old native of Honduras who feared being homeless if the Governor’s cut came to fruition, shared his painful story with Channel 10 News in San Diego. Soon after, he and I spoke. His candor in telling his story of being trafficked to the United States, forced into prostitution and bounced through the foster care system impressed me.

I wasn’t alone. Rivera’s story was so riveting that producers from Good Morning America contacted him up and came close to putting him on air. Understanding that the Governor would have been compelled to reconsider cutting THP-Plus if Rivera had a chance to speak on the national stage, I tried to drive a viral onslaught of emails to persuade ABC to let him on.  It was a shot in the dark, and has yet to yield the result Rivera, 1,400 former foster youth, an army of advocates and I want.

But the press team’s efforts were paying off with Op-Eds in San Luis Obispo, Merced and the Contra Costa Times.

Simultaneously Lemley, Michele Byrnes and Simone Tureck of the John Burton Foundation were planning a full onslaught on Sacramento’s Capitol building. Tureck had organized 40 or more meetings with THP-Plus providers, former foster youth living in those programs and elected officials and their staffs about the dangers of a cut.

One the eve of the Capitol siege, KPIX, CBS’ Bay Area affiliate, ran an excellent television piece about how the cuts would affect a young former foster youth and her baby son. The story was born from a great deal of behind-the-scenes work by Beth Fraker of Generations-Together who had organized the entire shoot.

Then Tuesday came. The marble floors of the Capitol clapped to the sounds of dozens of former foster youth and THP-Plus service providers darting from office to office. The day was punctuated with a press conference in a crowded committee room. The main attraction: Suahmirs Rivera, who again told his heartbreaking story and implored the governor not to cut THP-Plus because, “I don’t want to be homeless.”

ABC’s Nanette Miranda filed a story about the possible cuts, which aired on ABC affiliates in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Fresno and Sacramento. The Davis Enterprise ran a story; Univision interviewed Rivera in the hall outside the news conference and radio station KFBK sent a reporter to the event.

After, I spent the afternoon sitting in on the meetings with electeds. In one, a THP-Plus participant named Jeannette broke down in tears while telling California Director of Finance Ana Matosantos how the program afforded her child the stability she never had while growing up in foster care. In another meeting a young man named Daniel told Assembly Member Jerry Hill what it was like to have one place to call home after being bounced through more group homes then he could count on two hands.

This all struck me as uniquely awful, a true portrait of desperation. These young people, who had endured so much, were literally crying in front of those with the power to either kick them out of their homes or let them stay. The tears and quivering voices were not a tactic of persuasion, but rather the visceral expression of fear.

Still,  THP-Plus remains on the Governor’s trigger list.

Assembly Member Beall leans back in his chair and paints the world as it is. “There are some people who don’t care one bit about this,” he says. “They don’t care.”

But, for Daniel and Jeanette, who had spent the day fighting for their futures,  the words that they had been waiting to hear finally came. “Think I’ll vote for a budget that cuts this out?” Beall says. “Hell no.”

Until the Governor says the same thing, there are 1,400 former foster youth who are willing to fight. The other option is just too scary.

GMA Call to Action on Behalf of 1,400 Former Foster Kids

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This blog that I wrote for the Huffington Post includes a very novel call to action. In it I summarize the incredible life story of 19-year-old Suahmirs Rivera. Rivera was trafficked to the United States from Honduras at 16, was forced into prostitution and ended up in foster care. Now he lives in a Transitional Housing program that Governor Schwarzenegger is threatening to eliminate. Elimination of THP-Plus would make 1,400 former foster youth homeless.

Rivera’s message is clear: that he is willing to tell his story to save the program. Please read the blog and then send a note to Good Morning America. The show had contacted Rivera about being a guest, but the segment fell through.

I figure if enough people bombard GMA with emails, Rivera may have his chance to speak. And if a young man like him can tell his story on national TV, there is a good chance the Governor may think twice about casting 1,400 former foster youth like Rivera out into the street.

THP-Plus among other things on the Radio

with one comment

This morning I had the chance to discuss foster care policy in California with Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson. Peterson is rigidly conservative and opposed to almost anything government run.

I tried to explain the need for foster care and increased funding for it. Unfortunately, until there are no longer neglectful or abusive parents, there will need to be a system to provide safety and security for their children. So until that day comes, I say front-load the system.

To listen you will have to go to the Jesse Peterson Radio Show page on podcast alley and upload the podcast from “16 FEB 2010. Big Mamma’s House Hour 1: CALIFORNIA UPDATE: DANIEL HEIMPEL”

Row Growing over Foster Care Transparency

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As someone who has covered foster care intensively, I have come to know that departmental reticence to share information with the public is, while understandable, always damaging to the foster care system’s image. In Los Angeles, the Department of Children and Family Services is now unwilling to share details over a number of child deaths. This in the face of state law that explicitly calls for more transparency from the department.

But one must understand the Department’s position. They have had a spate of bad press about child deaths and want it to stop. So they put up the blinders.

This is always dangerous, because then the journalist, reasonably incensed can the hurl condemnation down on a silent, seemingly inhuman and inhumane system. Now, the LA Times and LA County DCFS are in a cool period. Information isn’t being shared and the Department grows fearful. This is terribly dangerous, because the floating public misconception is that the Department is bad, is hiding, is ashamed. The fact of the matter is that many in the Department are trying their best and overall the Department has, under the stewardship of Trish Ploehn,  become better. But for outsiders, that is hard to see because the papers point out the bad and the Department hides behind a vague interpretation of the law.

When we meet people who are guarded we have trouble trusting them. It is the same with a 7,000-employee public agency like DCFS. The more they hide, the more public mistrust goes. The real losers for this are foster children, who appear to potential mentors, foster parents and adoptive parents as associated with a tainted system. The department needs to open up, show all the good that is being done. Shut the bad press up with all the good. Face the difficult truths of such a hard line of work and get those reporters on the Department’s side. Once that happens the system will no longer be inhumane, but more, human: prone to error but always striving for the best.

Written by dheimpel

February 14, 2010 at 6:16 pm

Fostering Connections Marches Forward in California

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Here is the latest out of California. As the budget crisis in California has darkened, so too have prospects for the State’s 80,000 foster children. Earlier in the month, the Governor threatened to make 1,400 former foster youth homeless by eliminating THP-Plus, a program that provides transitional housing for a portion of the 4,500 youth that emancipate every year. Further, advocates worried that AB12, the implementation of the Fostering Connections to Success Act would be scuttled by lawmakers scouring for cash. But happily AB12 cleared the Assembly on Jan. 26th with a 72-0 margin. This sets it up for the State Senate and eventually the Governor’s desk.

In this Op-Ed for the San Jose Mercury News, I argue that federal funds freed up by the ACF’s encouraging decision to rescind guidance that had prevented California from tapping into matching federal subsidized guardianship dollars would quell any fiscal argument against seeing AB 12 passed. If AB12 passes in California it would mean the eventual extension of care to 21 for one sixth of the nation’s foster youth, setting the tone for cross-country implementation.

This is encouraging, but clearly there is a long way to go still.


Written by dheimpel

January 29, 2010 at 3:26 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Child Power

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As budgets buckle, foster kids are too often the first to suffer. In this story for the LA Weekly I explore how child advocates and child welfare administrators, with little help from politicians, are relying on foster kids themselves to breathe life into an ailing system.

The funny thing is that the kids are the ones who can do it. They have been reared by the system and are thus perfectly positioned to change it. But isn’t it a shame that we as collective parents have to rely on our collective children to fix the wrongs that we have incurred on them?